In Iowa, Is The Debt To Society Ever Paid?

Iowa Supreme Court photo 2013 No seats have been replaced since then

Iowa Supreme Court photo 2013 No seats have been replaced since then

Iowa Supreme Court Says No.

The Iowa Supreme Court Thursday offered a fine example of the consequences that elections have over the long haul when they handed down their decision on convicted felons losing their voting rights.. Consider this a mini example of what could happen decades into the future if Donald Trump were elected as president of the United States at a time when there will be one SCOTUS seat open for sure with a good possibility of three more opening soon.

The Iowa Supreme Court carved out a special niche in the hearts of a majority of the country in 2009 when they ruled that not allowing gay people to get married was unconstitutional. The decision was unanimous. However, the religious right was storming mad. Led by Bob Vander Plaats, the religious right vowed to oust those justices who were up for retention in the 2010 election.

In what has become a really bad pattern, Republicans dominated the 2010 midterm elections. As they vowed, the religious right removed three of the justices who made gay marriage legal in Iowa. Those seats would be filled through the normal process of nomination by the governor and confirmation by the senate.

The election of 2010 also returned Terry Branstad to the governor’s mansion after years. This was a quite different Terry Branstad than had governed before. Much more in the tea bag wing of the Republican party. With the justices turned out, one of Branstad’s first tasks was to replace the justices ousted by voters in that election.

Here we are five years after Branstad was able to remake the court. Thursday in the case deciding whether any convicted felon should ever get their vote back once they have paid their debt to society or whether once a person is convicted of a felony they lose their voting rights forever except upon appeal to the governor.

By what appears to be essentially a party line vote Justices Cady, Zager, Mansfield and Waterman – all appointed by Branstad – voted to keep a convicted felon from getting their vote back except on appeal to the Governor. Justices Wiggins, Hecht and Appel – appointed by Governor Vilsack – dissented.

Remember that old saw that a convicts rights were restored when they had “paid there debt to society?” Tain’t true in Iowa which along with Florida and Kentucky as the only states with such restrictive policies. This decision affects some 56,000 Iowans.

So Iowans get a reminder that elections of executives have long range consequences far beyond the term of that executive. At the national level the Supreme Court this week delivered a couple of surprising rulings dealing with Women’s health. The first was the highly publicized ruling that TRAP (targeted regulations on abortion providers) laws were unconstitutional as they fail the “undue burden” rule established in Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992).

As surprising as that was, the next day they quietly equaled that surprise by not granting a hearing to a case from Washington state in which pharmacists refused to fill prescriptions for contraceptives because of their (the pharmacists) religious beliefs. In doing so they let stand the appeals court ruling that said they simply must do their job. Had Scalia still been alive, the case most likely would have been heard.

It is easy to look into the future and see that if a Donald Trump becomes president pretty much any advancement in women’s health and freedom since before Roe v. Wade will be on the chopping block at every turn. We believe that justices that would be nominated by President Hillary Clinton would less concerned about religion and much more concerned about what is actually in the Constitution and court precedent.

Don’t forget that Chuck Grassley stated in early May that “Trump would nominate the right kind of people to the court.” That is a statement that is easy to understand. Trump would nominate reactionary types and Grassley would be right with him.

Elections have consequences. Think carefully this fall before you vote.

About Dave Bradley

retired in West Liberty
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